A Day in the Life of a Community Dietitian

Oh hey, happy Saturday friends!  I’m finishing up writing this post this morning, and it happens to be the morning after Cook-A-Thon kick off!  What is Cook-A-Thon, you ask?  Cook-A-Thon is one of the annual events/fundraisers that Open Arms puts on.  What happens is our kitchen stays open for 24 hours and our chefs and hundreds of volunteers cook about 11,000 meals for our clients in that time-frame. Isn’t that just amazing?  I worked the 3:45pm-midnight shift yesterday, and some of my co-workers were oh-so-lucky enough to work the overnight shift 🙂 So much fun!


Aside from helping out at these events, there are *a few* other things that I am responsible for as the dietitian for Open Arms…which is why I’m here today – to answer the question: “Bri, what do you do all day?”


Several years ago, I was under the impression that dietitians only worked in hospitals and nursing homes, and their days were encompassed by seeing patients and charting all day.  Well, my thoughts were wrong because there are SO MANY THINGS that dietitians can do, and that’s what I love most about this profession.  One somewhat new and growing area of dietetics is community nutrition.


The University of Minnesota defines community nutrition as “efforts that involve a wide-range of programs that provide increased access to food resources, nutrition information and education, and health-related care.  It also includes efforts to change behavior and environments and to initiate policy.”  This is the overall focus of my job at Open Arms of Minnesota (OAM).


A little overview of OAM: it is a nonprofit meal delivery program that cooks & delivers medically-tailored meals to individuals suffering from life-threatening illnesses.  The four primary illnesses that we serve are HIV/AIDs, MS, ALS and cancer.  Each client receives one delivery a week, which contains what’s equivalent to about 12 meals.  We have nine different menus/diets that clients can choose from, four of which are designed for individuals with specific dietary needs, such as gluten-free and low-sodium.


Honestly, I don’t have a cut-and-dry answer for exactly what my day-to-day is at OAM.   My days vary a lot, simply depending on the time of year and what projects I’m working on.  Here are some of my primary responsibilities:


-Help our chefs plan our medically-tailored menus

-Keep our menu specifications updated based upon current nutrition research

-Conduct nutrition analyses of all the recipes that are produced in our kitchen

-Assist our clients with choosing a menu that fits their specific dietary needs & preferences

-Develop nutrition education materials for our clients

-Precept dietetic interns & supervise nutrition students from various schools that do service learning at Open Arms

-I’m part of the Client Services Department, so I also do various tasks such as client intakes, help with answering phones when needed, etc.


To give you an even better idea of what my job looks like, I decided to choose a random day to give you a play-by-play of my various tasks.  The day I’m writing about happened to be a particularly crazy Monday!


7:45-8:15: My first task of every day is to pack “special bags” – that is, pack meals for our clients who are on our gluten-free/dairy-free and vegan menu.  Our wonderful chefs & bakers make special gluten-free/dairy-free and vegan sandwiches, soups and desserts so that these clients still receive the same amount of food that clients on our other menus do (what each client receives: 5 frozen entrees, 1 sandwich, 2 soups, 2 salads, 2 hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, an additional snack item, a freshly baked baguette, 5 pieces of fresh fruit, 4 desserts, milk and cereal).




8:15-8:30: Every Monday, I double-check the menus that the chefs put together for the week to make sure that I have recipes for everything that is planned out to send to clients.  I conduct nutrition analyses on all of the recipes they produce to ensure they fit within our menu specifications.



8:30-9:00: Get my first dose of coffee 🙂 Settle in, check voicemails and email, double-check my calendar and to-dos for the day.


9:00-10:30ish: I had a new intern start this Monday.  We have dietetic interns from various programs, including the University of Minnesota, complete their community rotation at Open Arms.  Most of them only come for a 5 day rotation but there are some who have the opportunity to stay for several weeks.


The first thing I do with interns is give them a mini tour and sit down with them for an hour or two to go over the handy dandy binder pictured below. I give them a crash course on the nutrition aspects of Open Arms, my job duties and their schedules & projects for the week.  They also have time to ask questions and we usually talk about what my path as a RD has been thus far.



10:30-noon: I have some time to return a few client phone calls, check-in with client services and enter a recipe into Food Processor (our nutrition analysis software).


Noon-1:00: We have a couple beautiful conference rooms that organizations and groups can rent out for events, meetings, etc. On this day, a group of dietitians from Davita Dialysis used one of the rooms for a meeting.  The dietitians had the chance to try a few entrees that our chefs cook for our renal menu (the renal menu is for clients who have kidney disease or who are on dialysis) and I gave an informal talk about our renal menu guidelines and how we go about developing meals for these individuals.  In general, our renal diet is low in potassium, phosphorus and sodium – three nutrients of concern for individuals with kidney disease.


1:00-1:30: I have a nutrition student volunteer come in on Mondays who helps out with various tasks & I spent some time getting her situated.  This Monday in particular she was able to help me with some Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach.  SNAP is a program that provides food & nutrition assistances to low-income individuals and families.   Every quarter, I reach out to all of our clients who are over 60 and refer them to SNAP if they qualify for it. Because there are so many clients who need to be contacted, I always have students help me out.  Yay for students!


1:30-1:45: Quick lunch!  During the summer months, I try to eat my lunch away from my desk outside in the sunshine.  I’ve noticed how much more energy I have in the afternoons if I take a little break and get some fresh air.


This is one of the entrees that our chefs produce for our heart-healthy, vegan and gluten-free/dairy-free menus: quinoa stuffed tomatoes! Yum! I brought half of an avocado & an apple from hope


1:45-3:30: Helped with answering client services phone calls (had a couple calls about changing menus, cancelling deliveries, etc). Do a few client intakes.


3:30-4:30: Get started with analyzing our fall-themed Meals on Wheels (MOW) menu.  Yep, not only do we have a kitchen where we cook meals for our own clients, we also have a separate kitchen where we cook food for MOW clients.  MOW is yet another food assistance program for older adults who are at risk of malnutrition.  The menus are quite tricky to plan & analyze because they must follow the very specific Older Americans Act (OAA) Title III Nutrition Guidelines.  The guidelines don’t 100% align with my nutrition beliefs but I’ve learned to get over that – if we don’t follow the government’s ‘rules’ for MOW, we don’t get funding!  Every season, the MOW chefs provide me with their new menu and recipes & I’m responsible for doing the nutrition analysis and making sure that the menu meets the required specs.


As you can see, the MOW menu has a much more “meat & potatoes” focus because let’s face it: that’s what older adults want to eat!  Unfortunately, they’re just not into the sweet potato sandwiches and coconut curry that our chefs make for Open Arms clients 🙂


Fall Menu + my chicken scratch 🙂


What a day!  Of course these times weren’t followed exactly, but it’s a good overview at least!  I plan to write these “day in a life” posts more often to share other aspects of my job that I love so much.


Shout out to my fellow community RDs!  I’d love to hear what YOUR job entails!





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